Part 7: Chapter FiveThe party walks with a spring in their step as they descend from the hills and pass the mill on their way back into Dragonholt. Fiore's harried apprentice, Bryll, meets them on the road and leads them straight back to his mistress.
"You're back," says Fiore, setting aside a sheaf of yellowing papers. "Tell me everything."
"Job's done," announces Deepmind, polishing a bit of goblin blood from one of her throwing knives for effect. That she had deliberately left one knife dirty just for the visual of her cleaning it in front of their employer was politely not commented on.
"URK DEFEATED GOBLIN KING SPLIT IN SINGLE COMBAT."
"Splig," Urist helpfully corrects.
"The majority of the goblins simply fled into the countryside on the defeat of their leader," Athtar explains. "They are a mob of absolute cravens, once the mine is reoccupied the risk of them attempting to retake it is small. From the sounds of it, Splig was already planning to relocate for better pickings elsewhere, so this should be the end of your problems with him."
"Splig, eh?" asks Fiore. "Is that a name I should know?" She shakes her head, fingering the silver chain around her neck. "Well, good work. I had a feeling I could count on you." She gestures to her apprentice, who places an iron strongbox on the table beside her. She unlocks it and removes a heavy felt bag that clinks and clanks as she presses it into Deepmind's hands. "We had a bargain, and I'm a woman of my word." She snatches up her crutch and stands. "Bryll! Bozarth!" she calls. Then she turns to the party. "I'd very much like to sit around and toast your victory, but apparently I have a lot of work to do getting that mine up and running again." She grins and stomp-drags away.
The party gains 150 gold
Two progress in heroism, one progress in combat training, and one progress in physical training
Two time passes
A) Read Sonia's diary on the village green
B) Go to the Chatty Archer and show Theodore the wooden trinket
C) Check up on Braxton and Mariam's progress at the Apothecary store
There's a faint click as a gold coin piece goes spinning up into the air. The coin reaches the apex of its flight, begins to fall back, and is caught by Minar, who looks at the results. He considers the coin for a moment, then flips it again. "Shouldn't you be seeing... some kind of doctor?"
Urk looked up from the journal to where Minar leaned against a building, the two of them lounging on the village green under some convenient shade. "YOU KNOW A DOCTOR IN DRAGONHOLT?"
He frowns, scanning the market street. "Mariam's probably got some more healing potions."
"URK STILL HAVE POTIONS," she replies, tucking her nose back in the book. "GOOD NIGHT SLEEP AND MAYBE VICTORY FEAST WILL BE ENOUGH FOR URK."
Minar looks over at his haggered companion, still singed in places from her own heart-stopping lightning. "If you say so." He watches Urk a few moments longer before letting out a faintly frustrated sigh. "Athtar's gonna quiz us on Sonia's journal for sure. No chance you can just give me the highlights?"
Urk finished the page she was reading before closing it. "BOOK IS VERY SHORT AND MOSTLY ABOUT MATING."
Minar's focus snaps back to the Orc. "HORSE MATING," she clarifies, before reconsidering. "NOBLE MATING TOO. SONIA KNEW KYRIC WANT THRONE, REFUSED TO GIVE, THEN VERY OBVIOUSLY MURDERED BY FAIRFAX STABLEMASTER."
Minar rolls his eyes in disbelief "Okay, how is her murderer in there? I thought she feel off her horse, did she squeeze one last entry with a cracked head?"
"SONIA SAY GAWIN'S FATHER SON OF KYRIC'S FRIEND AND TOLD HER TO TAKE KYRIC'S DEAL. THEN LAST ENTRY SAY GAWIN SADDLE SONIA'S HORSE, WHICH GAWIN NEVER DOES. SADDLE CAME LOOSE, SONIA FELL." Urk yawned and settled into the grass. "KYRIC IS OBVIOUSLY BANDIT IN THE WOODS, BANDITS HERE TO KILL FAIRFAXES, THAT WHY THEY ATTACK PARTY OF ARMED ADVENTURERS WITH NO MONEY INSTEAD OF LOOKING FOR RICH MERCHANT CARAVAN."
Minar goggles at Urk, glancing back down to the book. "Mmmaybe I should read that thing after all..."
"ENJOY APPLEDASH SUBPLOT," Urk murmurs, closing her eyes.
Suddenly, a loud cry from the edge of the green catches their attention. Three boys are laughing cruelly at a crying little girl, tossing a tatty, knit owl back and forth over her head. "Look!" says one of the boys. "She's flying!"
Urk rises to her feet and Minar follows in her wake. As they get closer, they realize that the girl isn't that young, maybe ten years of age, but she is very small. She has copper hair, golden-brown skin, and a traditional Dunwarr dwarf knot pattern woven in the fabric of her skirt. "Aw, the shorty-short beard-girl can't reach!" jeers one boy, throwing the owl over her head again. With no evidence that the girl has a beard, "beard-girl" is probably just another bit of cruelty about her heritage.
"Give her back!" cries the girl. "Me ma made her for me!"
"Where is your ma?" jeers the biggest boy, a thick-necked youth with unruly black hair. "Didn't se come down out of the mountains with you?"
The little dwarf girl collapses and sobs, and the pack of boys laughs, pointing at her and mimicking tears of their own. Urk snorts through her nostrils with rising anger.
"LITTLE BOYS LIKE PICKING ON GIRL FOR BEING SMALL?" Urk thrusts her fangs forward, looming over the startled bullies in her singed robe. "MAYBE URK SHOULD SHOW LITTLE BOYS WHAT BEING SMALL FEEL LIKE!"
The boys instantly break and run, screaming. "We're sorry!" shouts the largest boy, huffing and puffing along behind his faster fellows. "We're so-ho-horry!" He stumbles and falls, scrambles, sobbing, to his feet, and keeps running.
Minar watches the boys scurry away in satisfaction while Urk bends down to pick up the knit owl and offer it to Penny. She takes it back, staring with enormous eyes glimmering with years. "That were amazing," she says quietly. "Some day I hope I'm a brave fierce hero like you."
"PENNY WILL BE HERO FOR SURE," Urk assures the girl. "URK SUGGEST MAGIC STONES BUT OTHER HEROES PRETTY GOOD."
"Thank ye so much!" she says, turning her owl over in her hands. She looks down at the stained, almost-colorless toy, and then her expression shatters. "Oh no!" she cries. "They've torn it again!"
Indeed, the owl's head remains connected to the rest of its body by only a single thread. "Ah well, " she says, cradling the toy gently. "I'm still very grateful ye got it back."
Minar has craftsmanship
Urk looks down at the small, torn doll, before glancing over at Minar. The wildlander holds her gaze just a moment before sighing again and turning to Penny. "Here, let me take a look at your owl for a minute."
Penny looks to Urk, who gives her an encouraging nod before handing it over. He withdraws a small kit from a hidden pouch, and soon, a needle and thread. It's the work of a moment to re-attach the owl's head, and Penny is delighted with the effort, clapping her hands together in joy.
"Oh, Thegn Owl! Ye're all better! Oh, thank ye, thank ye!" The girl hugs her heroes then takes her owl and races for the bakery, shouting "Dah! Dah!"
They watch the girl run off in silence for a few moments. "URK DIDN'T KNOW SEWING ONE OF MINAR'S MANY TALENTS."
"It's actually practical to know how to fix clothing on the road."
"MHM," Urk gives Minar a cheeky grin. "DOES MINAR SEW BUTTONS FOR ARIA ON THE ROAD TOO? MAYBE WASH HER LAUNDRY."
"We're square on the whole highlights thing," Minar mutters as he ambles away. "Enjoy the book."
Mark one heroism
A) Go to the Chatty Archer to show Theodore the wooden trinket
B) Scout the Drunken Hog for leads
C) Check in on Braxton and Mariam's progress at the apothecary shop
Aria winds her way through the streets of Dragonholt toward the Chatty Archer, Urist in tow. "Can you be sure the gentleman you're looking for will be here?" Urist wonders, appraising the tavern's front face. "There's a respectable number of drinking establishments for such a small village."
"Believe me," assures Aria, "Theodore seems like a regular. We just need to make sure to cut in quick before he can work up a head of steam on one of his stories."
She opens the front door and steps inside, the Chatty Archer exactly as she left it down to the same patrons in the same seats as the night before, including Theo. Hunter nods as Aria appears, with Urist following her through and the two climbing onto a pair of stools at the bar. "Heard from Fiore you got the mines cleared out," Hunter remarks as he begins pouring a fresh ale. "That's worth one round on the house, I think."
Urist's eyes light up as he watches the mug fill. Old Theodore puts down his whittling knife and looks off in the distance. "Mines, you say? That reminds me of a story..."
Aria wastes no time. "The other day, you started telling us a story about you and Ursula, something about a wooden badger you carved for her, right?"
Theodore blinks in surprise, as though he hadn't realized anyone was listening. Cautiously, he nods. "That's right..."
Without waiting for the rest of his reply, Aria fishes the trinket out of her pack and holds it up for Theodore to see. "When we were passing through Eventide forest, we took a rest by the Tree of Tales. Our friend Urk said she found this little wood-carving out there, said she thought it was an omen. Does it look familiar?"
When Theodore sees the small wooden badger, his story trails off and dies in his throat. "My word," he says, taking it from her with trembling hands. He peers down at the wooden badger, seeming to see it more with his fingers than with his watery eyes. "This is the very one. I gave this to Ursula when we were both so very young." A smile spreads slowly across his face, crinkling his wrinkles like a withered apple. "It didn't have these letters carved into it then, though. 'T' and 'U'. Theodore and ursula. You found this at the Tree of Tales?" Hand trembling, he reaches inside his sawdust-covered woolen coat and withdraws a letter, stiff and dry and crinkling with age and sealed with a dollop of red wax.
"I think the spirit of the Tree of Tales is telling me that it's finally time. Why else would you bring this talisman into my hands? She must have carved in our initials and placed it there herself." He looks down at the letter, smoothing it on the countertop in front of him. "Oh, but I still can't bear to face her. I feel like such a fool, letting it go so long." He holds out the letter, his voice wavering. "Do you think you might... deliver this to her for me? She shouldn't be hard to find. She's run the Countess Inn since her husband died."
"Of course," says Aria, gently taking the letter from Theodore and securing it inside her pack. "We'll get right on it. Come on, Urist, let's go."
The Dwarf looks over, a frothy mug mere inches from his mouth, with a plaintive expression. Aria sighs and gives Theodore an apologetic look. "Uh, maybe give us a few minutes first."
The party loses the wooden trinket, the party gains the love letter.
One progress in heroism
A) Deliver Theodore's letter to Ursula at the Countess Inn
B) Investigate the Drunken Hog for leads
C) See how Mariam and Baxter are getting on at the Apothecary shop
Aria pauses outside the inn, waiting for Urist to catch up as he huffs and puffs his way up the street. "Sorry," he wheezes as he comes to a halt. It's been quite a day."
A painted sign showing a woman's profile with a silver coronet adorns this two-story building. The ground floor is of pale red stone, while the upper story is a sprawling half-timber affair, hanging over the entrance and supported by thick wooden posts. Flower boxes filled with colorful flowers are arranged between the support beams.
The Countess Inn's common room is hung with old, faded banners, most showing some variant of a black and white dragon crest: the coat of arms of the various rulers of Dragonholt going back generations. The far wall is painted with an expansive mural, showing a large tree that you take to be the great oak at the heart of Eventide Forest, its boughs enfolding the figure of a green-eyed woman wearing a silver coronet - presumably Countess Regina.
The patrons in the common room are a collection of men and women of various races all in their middle or later years, well-to-do judging from their clothing. They talk quietly in small groups or sit reading (or napping) by one of the two hearths, on either side of the room. Aria finds herself matching their demeanor, walking more carefully, lowering her voice, almost without meaning to. Urist, for his part, seems blithely ignorant of the change of tone and wanders amiably around.
An elderly human woman in a green dress sits at the table directly beneath the painted tree, and waves Aria over as soon as she catches her eye. "Welcome to the Countess Inn," she says in a hushed tone. "You must be new in the village. I'm Ursula. If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask me or my daughter." She motions toward a slender, almost ethereal woman in her middle years carrying a tray through the common room. "Pretty young thing, isn't she? The only one of my children left; the others have all moved away."
"Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Ursula," says Aria with a curtsy. "I'm Aria of Nerekhall, and this jolly old Dwarf is Urist the Alchemist, formerly of the Dunwarr mountains."
"Hello!" calls Urist from across the room, blithely ignorant of the volume of his voice.
Aria winces and turns back to Ursula. "Anyway, we are new around here, but we already made a friend who was in a pretty big hurry to get this letter delivered. Sooo..."
Aria offers the sealed envelope to Ursula, and she begins to smile as soon as she sees the handwriting on the outside. "Oh, Lady's grace," she breathes. "Theo you damn fool. Took you long enough."
The party loses the love letter
She breaks the seal and spreads the letter on the table before her. "Candle, girl. Candle," she says, and her willowy daughter brings a candle in a silver holder, placing it on the table to cast its light on the letter. Ursula reads carefully, tears beading in the corners of her eyes. Then she stands, presses the letter to her heart, and closes her eyes. "I have something for you," she says to Aria, and steps through a door almost invisible under the mural's paint.
A moment later, she returns holding a timeworn cloth doll that she cradles with obvious affection. "My mother made this doll for me when we first came to Dragonholt. I had no friends then, you see, so she told me the doll would keep me from being lonely. And it has, for all these long years."
She reaches out and places the doll in Aria's hands, while the bard tries to contain her surprise. Its colors are fading, but its stitches still hold true. Something about its crooked face seems welcoming. "I don't need this anymore. I won't be lonely. I want you to have it. Maybe you can find some other poor lonely child in need, as you seem to be going about doing good deeds."
"S-sure," says Aria, taking the doll and gently settling it in her pack. "Um, thanks Miss Ursula. I'll find the doll a good home. Don't leave Theodore hanging too long, now!"
The party gains the cloth doll
Mark one heroism
She sighs and settles down again in her seat. "I shall have to think about how to respond to Theo. Might be fitting to let him stew a week or two."
A few minutes later, Urist and Aria stepped into the dark streets of Dragonholt, slightly bemused. "I suppose it's rather touching," suggests Urist. "A pair of old souls like that, finding time for one last romance. Might make for a charming song."
"I guess," says Aria with a shrug, before crinkling her brow. "Oh dang, I shoulda asked about playing the inn later. Or the Chatty Archer. Or anywhere, ugh."
"Never fear," Urist assured, turning in the direction of the Swan. "Keep up with the good deeds and errands, and by the time your music career takes off you'll have a legion of fans."
A) Search for leads at the Drunken Hog
B) Return to the Swan to check in on Sapphire, Braxton and Mariam
(There's not really anything else open this late to visit that the party hasn't already visited)
(I forgot to pack Dragonholt when coming in to the lab today, so no update until I get home tonight. As for that being the end of the fetch quests, well, we still have the doll...)
The Drunken Hog is marked by no sign save a discarded oak hogshead. The building is low and square, its entrance sunken below the street and barred by a door black with grime. Its windows are greasy waxed paper, and the entire building seems like it hasn't been cleaned since it was built.
Deepmind stops in front of the tavern door and scans the darkened surroundings before whispering to Athtar. "This is the place."
"Are we meant to be moving stealthily?" Athtar replies, puzzled. He glances around at the various shadowy alleyways but could discern nothing.
"Not really," Deepmind admits. "Honestly, they've probably forgotten all about the trouble me and Urk got into yesterday. Still, I figured you might be a little less likely to start a bar brawl than she was, so let's try and keep a low profile - we're here to listen for information."
"Ah," realization dawns on Athtar. "So I am here as your protection."
Deepmind pauses halfway through opening the door and gives Athtar a humoring smile. "Something like that, sure."
An old human man is holding court by the hearth, his leg propped up on a stool as he gesticulates with his pipe. The leg is carved from wood and chipped and splintered in places, and the hand holding the pipe is missing two of its finger. Meanwhile, a tall man and a gnome are having what seems to be an old argument by the bar.
The Drunken Hog's common room is long and narrow, its rafters too low and its windows too high and small. The dim lighting and rushes on the floor hide what from the smell is a terrible congolmeration of sick and mess and spilled ale. None of the patrons seem in the least put out by the squalor, and the room is full of raucous celebration and surly solitary alcoholism in equal measure.
Against the long east wall lies a counter of rough-hewn wood, as much palisade as bar. Behind it stands a gaunt orc woman, her cheeks marked with scars too regular to be accidental. At the counter leans a tall human man with broken veins and the red flush of alcohol coloring his speech. A short but heavily muscled gnome man perches atop a stool close at hand. They appear to be locked in an argument.
"I'm telling you, Thelga, there's no such thing as gnomes," says the human man to the orc.
The orc woman raises an eyebrow and nods her head toward the gnome - right? Yeah, he's clearly a gnome - sitting right next to the human. "So what about Gnorman then? What's he? He even spells his name with a 'G'."
The gnome finishes his drink in one gulp. "Yeah, man! How do you explain me sitting right here if gnomes don't exist?"
The human makes a face somewhere between offended and pity. Don't be so hard on yourself, Gnorm. You're just short. No reason to call yourself a gnome." He pats the gnome - seriously, he has to be a gnome - on the shoulder.
Gnorman brushes the human's hand aside. "'Gnome' isn't an insult, it's my race!" he exclaims, shaking his head. "Alright, what about Sapphire? Or the new girl, Sapphire's niece..." He trails off, snapping his fingers for a moment. "Miriam!"
"Mariam," corrects the orc woman.
The human man looks almost shocked. "Who? The little one that just came to town with the orc. She can't be more than ten years old. What are you on about?"
"I swear, Reginald, you're just impossible to deal with." He slaps two coins on the bar. "I need another drink, Thelga. This idiot is too much." The orc woman behind the bar chuckles and pours him another mug of ale, then pockets the coins.
They watch the gnome wander away as his gnome-denying companion returns to his drink. Athtar glances curiously over to Deepmind, weighing his responses carefully. She decides to preempt him. "Okay, so the info's not always gold at these taverns. We've just gotta be patient." She waves to catch the bartender's attention. "Two drinks over here too."
The party spends 5 gold
Everyone recovers 2 stamina
The two mugs of ale stick fast to the top of the bar, requiring a tug to detach them. Deepmind passes one to Athtar and sips thoughtfully from the other. Propped up on a stool, she could survey the whole of the common room, her sensitive Hyrrnyx ears twitching as she tunes into different conversations.
Athtar grimaces as he tastes the local brew. "I don't think much of the vintage."
"Aged to perfection three days in Thelga's bathtub," Deepmind mutters before taking another sip.
"Even for the price, one of the other inns must surely have finer fare."
"It's not the vintage of the drinks I'm concerned about." Her ears suddenly twitch toward the hearth and the man with the peg leg.
"I'm telling you it's impossible," exclaims Gnorman. "No one could fight a dragon and win, not without magic, not even a bigjob."
"I never said it weren't with magic what he done it," says the old man with the missing fingers. "This hero: a great and powerful magic what he had, like to freeze a dragon's fire in its very throat!"
"If we had a magic like that, the Dragon Wars would have gone very differently," observes Thelga.
"Well, this fella done died, didn't he just?" says the tale-teller. "And is magic were buried with him, not far from this very spot!"
"More likely it died with him," says Gnorman. "You don't bury perfectly good magic, not when there are dragons to consider."
"Mayhap it were the dragons what buried him," suggests teh old man. "Certain his tomb is a haunted place now. What I been there meself, hadn't I?" Just to the north of the village it be, but that howling, it chilled me bones."
"More likely you heard the wind and made up the tomb to make yourself feel better," scoffs Gnorman. "Let's have another drink."
Deepmind taps her chin for a moment, before downing her mug and dropping it back to the bar. "Come on, you can stop nursing that ale. I'm sure Sapphire has some milk left over from breakfast."
Rising to the challenge, Athtar quickly gulps down his ale before balking and dropping the mug again less than gracefully. "I'm not sure what this whole venture has turned up."
"Information, just like I said." Deepmind was already halfway to the door.
She waited for Athtar to catch up and the two of them to step into the street before continuing. "That pirate guy talking to Gnorm? He mentioned the tomb of an old hero north of town. Just follow the howling. A hero who can freeze dragonfire - Braxton mentioned something about a hero like that coming from Dragonholt once. Put all that together and that sounds like a lead to me."
"A bit of drunk talk at a tavern hardly seems like a reliable lead," says Athtar with a shrug. "Unless we also intend to investigate the non-existence of gnomes."
"How long have you been at this, huh?" Deepmind gave Athtar an accusatory look. "Drunken legends about lost tombs are like four out of five adventures. Plus someone mentioning it already in passing? That's foreshadowing, ask Urk about it."
"We still have no leads on our main goal, so I suppose there's no harm in investigating further." The elf considers for a few moments, looking up into the night sky. "Let's touch base with the others, form a plan. But in the morning - after today's events I'm sure they need a rest."
"Yeah," agrees Deepmind. "So far as I know everyone's put their feet up at the Swan, probably already... in..." she pauses, squinting down the street. "Is something going on?"
Warmth spills out into the night from the Swan, torchlight flickering thick, and the sound of music and merriment is audible from well up the street.
The door of the swan flies open and Aria hangs out, fiddling wildly. She spots Athtar and Deepmind and stops to wave. "You guys missed it! Big news!"
"What news?" asks Athtar, perplexed.
"Mariam proposed to Braxton! She was gonna do it earlier at the picnic that Urk gatecrashed-"
"URK STILL NOT SORRY"
"-but she just did here in the common room in front of everyone! Sapphire's throwing a big party! Come on!" Without another word, she swings back and sets to fiddling.
Deepmind turns a sly smile on Athtar. "Rest up, huh?"
"I think we've earned a night of merriment," he replies, returning the smile, before looking away mildly surprised. "I didn't realize Braxton and Mariam were that, er, close."
Deepmind rolls her eye and takes Athtar by the hand, leading him into the golden glow of the Swan. "You really do have the awareness of a brick sometimes, you know that?"
Day two over
Everyone recovers three stamina (and no more, due to partying)
(And that's day two! I'll be back tomorrow with the start of day three!)